International Day of Peace on Sunday 21st September is an annual event that has been organised by the UN for more than a quarter of a century. International Day of Peace is also a day of Global Ceasefire which, if adhered to, provides a small ray of sunshine for those who endure war and conflict and often allows essential food, water, and medical supplies to reach those most in need. The UN have launched an admirable campaign this year, encouraging like-minded global citizens to network, participate and even send text messages of peace to world leaders. Jeremy Gilley has even made a film about it, set in Afghanistan and starring Jude Law. But as a Communications Strategist I have been contemplating the difficulties of selling “peace” both in my work with the UK ministry for peace and as research for a book on the subject.
For a start, everyone’s notion of what peace means is different. For some it means a walk to school with little chance of being blown up. For others it means being able to sleep at night without fear of a katyusha rocket slamming into your home, or a boot kicking your door in. It can mean the arrival of humanitarian relief with food and shelter because supply routes are now safe. But again, this is not what peace looks like; it is what absence of violent conflict looks like. And perhaps if “peace” were rebranded simply as cessation of violence it would become more tangible - for everyone’s vision of peace is different.
On Friday evening, I found myself on a British commuter train galloping away from the capital into the Home Counties. People were leafing through free newspapers, some tapping quickly into Blackberries, others with tired, folded arms contemplating the weekend. There was a respectful hush and those travelling with friends muttered in a subdued way. It’s September, but it feels like autumn already. The fingers of sunlight dancing across the recently harvested fields hold little warmth. But there are no floods nearby. No searing heat, nor blizzards, no hurricanes tearing down power cables. And there are power cables, and roads, and houses, and nice cars visible in pretty rural train station car parks. People are talking and reading about rising food prices and the housing market, but no one is in violent protest about it. No one had a gun, no one was being raped, no one fighting – not even verbally. So, I guess this is what peace looks like in my world. I have to say, as peaceful as it sounds, it was pretty boring really. As lovely as it was to me, if this is the best vision of peace I can come up with – in advertising terms, it’s not particularly dynamic. And worse still, not many people looked actually happy. There was clearly a large amount of taking peace for granted going on.
So perhaps it is the immediate ceasefire that as a communications professional I should be concerned with promoting first? That’s the easy bit. The hard part is selling lasting, ongoing peace, a consensual commitment to it, and in communicating the ongoing benefits of reconciliation, and perhaps because of our ability to heal quickly, a reminder of what cessation of peace can lead to. So let’s hope we can use this small ray of sunshine that is International Day of Peace to entice people into the full and lasting warmth of the sun - the question remains - how do we inspire others to understand that this sun need never set?